Monday 27 July 2009 9:24 PM (Atchin’s Anchorage Loh Island)

Like instructions passed through the lines of military command …

So … what we want to do today folks, is nick up to Hiu Island, run a clinic there, then, on the way back do another clinic at Tegua Islandand when we’re there pick up a woman near the island of Metoma who is expecting a baby and bring her back here to Loh Island, where her husband and the nurse practitioner, Zebulon, can keep an eye on her.

It all started well.  At 7:00am the local boat brought the medical volunteers, comprising Richard, Rochelle, Jannelle, Tim, Helen, Ann, Don and Meg, plus the local health worker Zebulon, and of course my new friends from yesterday – Atchin and Stalyn who would act as guides and extra muscle in pulling up the anchor on account of the switch burning out and the electric winch not operating at the moment.

I quizzed Zebulon before we left, “Where is the clinic?”  “Hiu” he said “north”.  “Can you show me on this map?” I asked.  After much head scratching and deliberation, the site of the village was finally pinpointed behind a small island half way up the east coast.

“The wind is from the south east.  Doesn’t that blow straight in there?  There is no anchorage shown on the map?” I quizzed him and also Atchin.

“It sheltered behind the island.”  they said    “No coral?”  I pressed.  “Not much” they both said.  (Google map shows anchorage location on Hiu Island as Google thinks small island is a peninsula – Admin)

So with this extensive background information, we set off.  The 13 mile sail north to Youkeuivamena (you try saying that quickly!!) Village was done in 2-3 hours, the wind was with us, but the tide was against us.  All making for bigger seas than normal.  On approach to the point of land sticking out of the east coast of Hiu, which is actually a small island, we had following seas of 3-4 metres and a confused chop of 1-2 metres and I wasn’t convinced that any sheltered water could be found.  But true to their word, Atchin and Zebulon did find us some sheltered water, between two headlands, behind an island and 50 metres from a coral and rock ledge.  While dropping the anchor with everyone on “coral lookout”, Mike yelled out, “there’s a man here in the water trying to say something”  and sure enough there was, complete with mask and snorkel.

“You can go further in” he called.  But with the anchor down in 8 metres of water in a sandy bottom, I wasn’t about to move.  “This safe and good spot here?” I yelled.  “Yes, eh good”, came the reply.

(For those who are interested, the gps position of the small anchorage was 13 degrees 07.45 minutes S, 166 degrees 35.24 minutes E)

Pretty soon the diver was aboard and introduced himself as Dudley, “the best diver on the island”  his words, and I’m in no position to doubt him, given the distance we were from shore when he swam along side.  He also turned out to be the son of the health worker, Zebulon.

Chris ran the medical teams ashore, complete with all their boxes, and it was decided that we would have to be away by 2:30-3:00pm in order to get back in daylight – against the wind, the sea and now the tide, which had turned. After a quick bite to eat, which included feeding our new friend Dudley, who stayed aboard to look after the boat’s position (relative to all the surrounding hazards) plus Atchin and Stalyn I went to sleep for a couple of hours, leaving Terrence on anchor watch.

Atchin asked if we had anything for them to read, so I handed out three National Geographic magazines, which were well received.

By 3:00pm it was clear they must be having a busy clinic ashore because there was no obvious action on the beach.  Meanwhile the dropping tide had exposed more of the rock shelf off the bow and the two headlands in the distance, on which the sea continued to pound.

The clinic was indeed a busy one and Graeme has been regaling us with stories of one Grandma bringing several grandchilren in, (at a rate of one per half hour) the strength of coconut crab claws being tested with the aid of a pen (which was broken in the experiment), giving injections in the bum for Yaws disease, the man who limped in and just wanted his eyes tested, the kid with a pain in the tummy but whose parents thought it was a bit lower and of a more personal nature, a family of 5 who all decided to come to the clinic as something of an outing, making referrals for operations in Santo or Pt Vila, the list goes on.

Mike has been promoted to the medical team in the capacity of Health Information Manager (HIM).  This requires him to enter patient report cards directly into a small laptop computer that Don had purchased. We now have all records for team 3 and 4 electronically stored enabling us to print off reports and sort by any patient data field as required.

They saw a total of 56 patients out of an island population of a bit over 200.  Not a bad turn-up rate, given they didn’t know exactly when we were coming on account of there being no phones and the radio communication to the island being out.

Our exit from the bay was something of a three act play.  1/. get the anchor up manually using lots of on-board muscle.  2/. get dingy aboard and lashed down ASAP and 3/. Getting the double-reefed mainsail up.  All the while remaining in the confined but sheltered waters of the cove and away from all the obstacles mentioned earlier. And let’s not forget our diver friend Dudley.  As the dinghy came aboard one side, he exclaimed, “farewell, I go now”  and simply dived off the other side into the big blue.  He finally surfaced and the last we saw of him was swimming towards the sandy shore further up the bay.

And I’m not sure how to take this, but we were informed by the locals that we were the first yacht ever to anchor in their bay.

Our exit from the bay proved to be as wet and lumpy as expected, with all those not wishing to have a seawater shower advised prior, to go below.  Once on our course south, back to Loh (our recently named “Atchin” anchorage) our progress was quicker than expected, but our late departure did mean we made our final approach to the anchorage under moon light.  A big thankyou to “Ray”, the (Raymarine) chartplotter who kept the red cross on the screen for our return – it sure makes it easier than the “good ol’ days”

A very big thank you also to catering officer, Jo, who whipped up a wonderful pizza mid journey – magnificent!!

With the anchor down at 7:00pm – 12 hours after we set out, a quick review of the day revealed that we were all extremely tired and somewhat thankful to be back!  And no, we didn’t get to do a clinic at Tegua on the way back, and yes, the pregnant woman is still waiting for someone to pick her up.  (The local boat might have done it if the seas weren’t so rough and the wind not so strong, but they have no petrol – a common problem up here.  There’s also the issue of the motor attached to the back of the local boat, which is not so reliable!!)

And tomorrow, well, once again, plans have changed.  The island of Toga to the south will be visited using the local boat, equipped with our outboard motor and fuel. It’s a relatively sheltered 8 mile run down the west coast.  Meanwhile, we’ll keep the yacht here at the top of Loh for the day as we get ready for the next day, when we plan to do another pregnant woman delivery – so to speak – from Tegua back here to Loh, while the medical team do a clinic here at Loh.

Smooth sea, fair breeze and Hiu knows where we’ll be tomorrow.

Rob